November 7, 2022

7 Enlightened Habits of Highly Effective CMOs

by Melissa Caffrey

How do you create a habit? Cue Kory Kogon from an interview on productivity: “The more you do conscious things, the more your brain cells fire and rewire. It’s called Hebb’s Law. Fire, rewire, and those new connections go to the back of your brain, creating new routines. That’s how you create a habit.”

Now, what are the conscious things that the most successful CMOs have fired and rewired into winning daily habits? Cue our list of the 7 habits of highly effective CMOs, sourced from 500+ interviews and hundreds of CMO Huddles conversations with some of the best and the brightest B2B CMOs of today.

1. Set the Vision

It’s hard to create habits or stick with them if you don’t set goals first. For example, “Workout more” is hardly as motivating as a fully-fledged exercise plan or even an “Exercise 3 days a week” goal.

As Kogon shared in her aforementioned interview: “The probability of accomplishment goes up 200-300% the more specific we get around goal setting.”

When it comes to CMOing, this means setting the vision for the brand, for the culture, and for your team—setting a clear goal to drive the entire organization. Great CMOs help define the strategy for the organization, and they understand that complexity is the enemy of any successful brand.

A CMO doesn’t just set the vision, they make sure it is clear and easy to understand. One helpful exercise: Define your brand vision in 8 words or less—8 words that every employee at every level can apply to their day-to-day decisions.

There’s a particularly fascinating interview with David Friend, serial entrepreneur and current CEO of Wasabi. In the conversation, he leaves this advice for CMOs: “Focus in on that very short, succinct message about who you are, why you’re here, why you exist, and why somebody should care what you’re doing.”

2. Empathize Every Day

A global pandemic. A pending recession. A shift from office to remote to hybrid. Your employees are facing unprecedented life challenges, so it’s important now more than ever to get to know them and express empathy whenever possible.

To start, schedule time for non-work conversations. Set aside an hour a week in 10-minute blocks for “office hours” where you ask your team members “how are you?” and mean it. Don’t be reading emails at the same time. Don’t be worrying about your next board meeting or C-Suite conversation. Really empathize and connect with your employees.

In a Renegade Marketers Unite interview, CMO Amy Messano of Altair shared that during the pandemic, she sent out a weekly email to check in on people, providing both personal updates alongside business updates to try to connect with employees across the globe. Part of her outreach also included short videos from her daily walks, as an informal way to brighten her team’s days.

Her vulnerability allowed others to express their own challenges as well. Her commitment to listening allowed employees to blossom. Here’s what Amy said happened next: “You spend more time with the people you work with than anybody else. Just knowing that you’re there to listen no matter what—I have found so many learnings and so many bright sides during COVID. Amazing performance, new ways to do things, new ways to think, to problem-solve, to collaborate.”

Empathy supports recruiting, retention, culture, and brand efforts. Here’s one last thought from a discussion with Caroline Tien-Spalding: “If you ignore empathy entirely, employees will make the choice, and you may not like the outcome.”

3. Proactively Manage Up

Be proactive! Be, be Proactive! Consider us your cheerleaders when it comes to setting yourself up for success in the role. There’s more than enough skepticism out there about the true value of marketing, so it’s up to the CMO to make sure they get ahead of it ASAP.

CMOs (especially those new to the role) should do everything in their power to get quick wins that will build credibility with the executive team and the board. After all, you won’t be able to make all of the larger, more impactful marketing changes you want if you can’t get the buy-in or the budget.

Make it a priority to build relationships with the C-Suite and board and get to know their priorities (and pulling from Habit 2, don’t forget to be empathetic!). Here are a few of the most important executives in the C-Suite to form relationships with, and what they often focus on in relation to marketing:

  • CFO on the metrics that matter
  • CEO on organizational purpose
  • CRO on sales targets and the role marketing can play
  • CHRO or CPO on your employer-brand strategy

On the other side of the coin, it’s important to provide air cover for your team when it comes to asks from other functions. Empower them to say “no” if a request is not an approved priority based on the above C-Suite conversations. Everything should level up to pre-agreed-upon activities.

4. Protect the Calendar

A CMO’s calendar is usually jam-packed with meetings upon meetings, leaving no time for high-level thinking that is so crucial to a CMO’s success. There’s quantitative evidence in that the number of meetings on the calendar are hurting everyone, too. A new survey from showed that employees spend about 18 hours a week on average in meetings, and going to noncritical meetings wastes about $25,000 per employee annually.

CMO Huddles covered how to beat meeting mania in-depth in 2022—here are the top takeaways:

  • Only attend meetings that move your top priorities forward
  • Constantly audit regular meetings to see which can be eliminated
  • Block off at least an hour a day for thinking time

We also discussed this at length in a CMO Huddles Bonus Huddle with Kory Kogon—and one of the key takeaways was that you need to set boundaries for work so your mind and body can replenish. The 5 energy drivers are Moving, Eating, Connecting, Sleeping, and Relaxing, so you might want to schedule those into your schedule too so you don’t neglect yourself.

5. Launch Careers

A CMO is only as good as their direct reports. So put in the effort to build them up. Create career paths for your team members and facilitate conversations about their short- and long-term goals. Support and encourage their personal brand development. Use “we” when talking about marketing’s accomplishments—because you really can’t do what you do without your team.

These folks will want to work for you and be far more loyal if they know you’ll enable career growth. And if that growth means they leave you to be a CMO themselves, that’s still not a bad thing. After all, if you can build a reputation as a CMO maker, you won’t have a hard time finding another talented marketer to bring on board.

6. Know the KPIs

Marketing is not fluffy, and its impact is felt inside and outside the organization. You know that, we know that. But you need to be able to track and demonstrate progress in language that your C-Suite and board will understand.

This is where that proactive relationship-building habit comes into serious play. Through your relationship with the CFO, CRO, and data team, develop a dashboard that will provide a high-level overview of key performance indicators (KPIs).

Now, don’t forget about simplicity. The dashboard should have no more than 10 KPIs. And while there will always be an organizational bias toward revenue growth, develop and push other KPIs in the areas of employee satisfaction, customer satisfaction, and brand awareness/saliency.

Rightly or wrongly, there is one metric the C-Suite values above all others and that is marketing’s impact on revenue. To the extent that you can demonstrate a direct link between dollars spent and revenue gained, the more secure your seat at the table. Recognizing that there is often a lag time between acquiring a sales opportunity and closing a deal, it helps to have an understanding of sales velocity:

Here’s a useful formula that was presented by Chief Marketing & Pipeline Officer of Acrolinx, Chris Willis: “Sales Velocity is a piece of fancy math. It’s the number of opportunities entering the pipeline x the average deal size x the win rate (over) the average sales cycle length.”

7. Hire an Assistant

If you don’t have an assistant, you are one. If you are spending more than 10% of your time on tasks that could easily be delegated, ask yourself why? If you are spending more than 25% of your time on the same menial tasks you did earlier in your career, you are hurting both yourself and your company.

A personal assistant can serve as the gatekeeper to your calendar and smaller details, so you can focus on the big picture instead of getting lost in the little day-to-day tasks that someone else could take care of.

Apart from managing your calendar, the ideal assistant will track details and follow up on key initiatives with your team. And if your company won’t fund it, then we highly recommend getting a virtual assistant and funding them yourself. Not only will you free up time to focus on your top priorities but also you’ll free up time to take care of your mental and physical well-being!